Wednesday, November 20, 2013

the last book I read

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle.

It's 1968, and Paddy Clarke is ten years old. He lives in Barrytown, north Dublin, a fairly grim area in reality, but in the minds of Paddy and his friends it's outer space, Wembley Stadium, the bottom of the sea, whatever they need to facilitate their games.

Meanwhile at home Paddy has to cope with his annoying younger brother Sinbad (as annoying as similarly-aged younger siblings always are, his two much younger sisters being far too young and too female to bother about), and his parents - generally good and well-intentioned people, but with just an undercurrent of tension and some increasingly fraught arguments after the kids have gone to bed.

Among the blizzard of anecdotes, the fantastical games, the endless questions, the religious indoctrination, the bunking off school, the casual childhood cruelty, the scatological humour, the booting, biting and bollocking, one thing becomes clear: Paddy's parents are going to split up and there's nothing he can do about it. And as and when that happens, assuming that it happens with his Dad leaving, as generally happens, then at that point Paddy will become the man of the house, and that will mark an end of childhood.

Very much like the other Roddy Doyle book I've read, The Van, this is a series of not necessarily chronological anecdotes rather than a more standard linear narrative. The one major thing that happens plot-wise - Paddy's father leaving - happens literally on the penultimate page, so there's not much time to chew over reactions to it. That's not the point of the book, of course, the point being to evoke intensely what it's like to be ten years old, and to elicit some sympathy for Paddy's circumstances despite also being reminded of what filthy vindictive little bastards ten year old boys are. And in those terms it's very successful - this really is how little boys act, the little shits. While I'd have ideally preferred a bit more narrative drive, the fact that it's taken an age (46 days) for me to read it is more down to my having been busy with a load of household DIY tasks during spare moments over the last couple of months and not having much spare time to read.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993, thus becoming the fourth Booker winner in this list after G., The Gathering and Hotel Du Lac.